Jane Kataria: When did you visit India for the first time? Why Chennai?
Adeline Graham: I came to India six years ago to meet my team. It was never on my list of places to visit but I worked as a Marketing Director for a Chennai IT company, so I came! It just felt right from the get go. The warmth of the people, the colours, the energy, the weather (yes the weather!!) and the food. It all blew me away. Since then I have been fortunate to visit many other places, in different states, with many more to come, I hope. But Chennai feels like home.

JK: Where did you spend your childhood?
AG: I am French. I spent my childhood in France, in Le Mans, Loire Valley. My parents had a shop. I spent time around clients and playing with friends in the neighbourhood. My mum is incredibly creative – from flower arrangements, to framing, home decor she was always working on new projects. My dad is more into literature, museums and travelling. Both are incredibly hard working and hugely generous. I have two elder brothers who are my rocks to this day! We also had an elderly couple next door who looked after me everyday after school. Fernande, or mamie to me (gran) is the Fern in Fern and Ade! She was a strong woman with a good heart and an incredible sense of style. She is very dear to me and taught me so much. That’s my way of taking her on this adventure with me. Now I have a family of my own, I have two awesome kids 16 and 18 years old.

JK: Have your parents visited you in Chennai?
AG: My parents visited India 30 years ago and absolutely loved it. I still have a saree my mum gifted me at that time. Travelling nowadays is more difficult for them because of age so they haven’t returned. My brothers have come to Chennai, Rajasthan, Goa, Kerala… I think we’re all converts!

JK: So, may be that saree was the seed which grew into a desire to settle down in India?
AG: Yeah, may be (laughing) As a student I studied business & marketing in London and worked in Procurement for many years. My dream job at that time was to become a buyer in an exotic country, Morocco at the time if I recall correctly. But it happened to be India and I am very happy about it. I think I always wanted to live abroad curating nice things. I was also always attracted to having my own business. And here in Chennai I have an opportunity to live my dreams (smiles)

JK: What are you doing now, I mean work?
AG: I have always had the design bug – being in beautiful spaces, looking at old architecture or quirky crafted objects make me happy. I had a corporate life in the UK for 20 years working in Procurement and Marketing. I have done interior transformation as a side hustle for the past 18 years and more recently professionally as an interior designer doing co-working spaces, homes and airbnb. I moved to Chennai late 2022 to set up a business importing luxury furniture and lighting designed in Europe.

We opened our first showroom in Chennai late last year. We curate luxury furniture and lighting from Europe’s leading brands (Fernandade.com, IG @Fernandadeindia). We have about 15 brands at the moment from Ethnicraft, to Wendelbo, & tradition, Nanimarquina, Louis Poulsen, New Works, and get solicited every week by new ones. The response has been very positive both from professionals and private clients. We also work on projects India wide, many of which are in Mumbai. We want to expand to Mumbai this year and will take part in Design Mumbai in November to give our brands a national platform so that a larger audience gets to experience them. 2024 has been a fast pace and hugely exciting year so far.

JK: What are the challenges of doing business in India?
AG: There are always challenges in business. I would say the biggest one for me is patience. Patience with the process of building something so new in a new country and trusting that you are heading in the right direction when there are so many paths and unknowns. And patience with myself – to enjoy the everyday and not rush to the next milestone. The people here are what makes it truly special and for that I am hugely grateful. It has been less than a year since our first pop up in Chennai and the welcome, the support, the kindness have been overwhelming.

JK: How do you like Chennai?
AG: Chennai is growing and more bustling. Loads of new restaurants, apartments and homes coming up everywhere. Metro work, road work! It’s getting more busy!

JK: Do you see any similarities or differences between the two cultures?
AG: The sense of family and the love for our own culture and heritage runs very deep both in France and India. The main difference, I think, is the importance of the “moment”/ the “now” in India and this incredible trust that it will work out no matter what.

JK: Did you learn Indian cooking?
AG: I no longer cook but absolutely love Indian food. My favourites are idli and dosa with yummy chutneys. I love Indian culture and learning Indian dancing is on my list now.

JK: How does your life look in Chennai?
AG: Oh, I found many interesting things here. For example I do pilates a few days a week. Then grab a few coffees and do my emails, go through my to-do list for the day. Every day I head to the showroom or visit clients. Evenings are usually pretty social I like discovering new places and making new friends. I recently started tennis lessons. I haven’t played in years so this is definitely a new challenge!

JK: Best places you visited in Tamil Nadu?
AG: I enjoy moments more than just places. I love living in Tamil Nadu, the festivals here, rhythm throughout the year, saree shopping in Kanchipuram, a week day wedding in Chennai, celebrating Holi in Parrys corner, the lighthouse in Mahabs, learning to surf in Kovalam, morning walks in Mylapore before heading to the temple. Drinks on a rooftop or dinner with Tamil friends. My happy place is a road trip. Anywhere with good company, good food, good music and amazing scenery! And Tamil Nadu has so much to discover.

JK: What has motherhood taught you?
AG: For me listening is the biggest part. We live in an era where mental health is a real discussion, where social media is a real concern globally. At nearly 17 and 19, my children mostly need me to listen rather than tell them what to do. My role is changing, I am here always but not as the main actor (which is the hardest part!)… I support, encourage and give insights. I have to let go a little … Far from easy but I’m working on it – as we all are – whether we’re mums in France or India.